Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Traditional massage therapist finds a place with doctors

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 03/11/2009 2:04 PM | Health
Ten-year-old Bowo was playing with his friends in the schoolyard in East Jakarta when he felt a pain in the lower part of his stomach and could barely move his feet. His parents were called to the school and the boy was taken to hospital.
The doctor could do nothing for the boy other than diagnose a hernia. However, the hospital knew of a health clinic that had a Cimande massage therapist. The desperate parents and grimacing boy saw no other option; they headed straight to the clinic.
"After less than one hour of massage and with pain relief medication, my boy was able to go out and play again," the boy's father, Rasyid, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Like many forms of traditional massage in Indonesia, Cimande massage has developed a reputation for its ability to cure bone-, joint- and muscle-related complaints.
The type of massage is named after the village in Bogor, West Java, where many of the massage therapists come from. The skills have been handed down from generation to generation, a tradition accompanied by a kind of mystic aura.
Muhammad Si In, a 48-year-old massage therapist from Cimande, said he had received training in the technique from his grandfather, Abah Emang, from when he was 20 years old, but he was not allowed to practice it until he had his own family in 1987.
"We promised him that we would only practice it when we got married and had children of our own. I don't know why, but I obeyed."
Si In, who is popularly known as Bang Mamat, said that he received the training together with 12 other children, but he was the only one who passed the test allowing him to treat the public.
The preparation his grandfather gave him, Si In said, went for nearly a year and involved numerous rituals, prohibitions and taboos, including 40 days of fasting and not being allowed to eat rice or any vine fruit.
He has since come to be the therapist at a certified health clinic in East Jakarta, after beginning in 1987 practicing at his own house in Bogor, before becoming a therapist in Indramayu, West Java, for one year. From 2000, he was the therapist for the Bogor regent.
Since 2006 he has been working for a Gran Ananda clinic in East Jakarta, where he works alongside doctors helping treat complaints ranging from sore muscles and stiff tendons to more serious bone and muscle problems such as fractures, sprains and hernias. He treats patients in a simple room, with nothing but a thin mat and pillow.
Si In said between five and 10 patients visit the clinic for massage therapy during the week, and 10 to 15 during the weekend. The clinic also gets some patients from abroad.
Adi, the coordinator of Gran Ananda clinic, said that initially doctors at the clinic were reluctant to work with Si In, but after he succeeded with several patients, they started to cooperate with him.
After all, Si In does also hold a license from the East Jakarta health service agency permitting him to practice his traditional skill.
The therapist, who never finished high school, said he had no interest in learning about muscles, bones or human anatomy or to enrich his skills from books or other modern sources - he believes the knowledge gained during that year of training with his grandfather is enough.
"I just have to learn from the patients that come to me," said Si In, who has been part of the health team for Bogor municipality's regional sports week (Porda) contingent since 2000.
Even professional massage therapist Sugiat Mulyosudarmo admires the Cimande traditional therapists. He said he often visits them to "steal" their skills.
"They have the talent, even though they might know nothing about muscles or bones. I always learn from them and never underestimate them," said Sugiat, who holds several licenses for sports massage, including from the International Olympics Commission in 1998 and 2002.
Sugiat, who has been a massage therapist for the Indonesian badminton team for many national and international events since 1987, said that if traditional massage therapists had their own institution to update their skills and promote them, they would be as widely accepted as professional therapists.
"They have the knowledge; they just don't know how to explain it. They are smart because they never stop learning."
This lack of knowledge about human anatomy, said Sugiat, is the traditional therapists' only Achilles heel.
"Sometimes, they treat different illnesses with the same treatment. We can feel pain in the same part of our body but the cause could be different so the treatment should be different."
However, Si In said that passing his grandfather's rigorous selection process was enough for him to become a therapist.
"We can feel it in our hand if we have the skills and in time we can also know the problem just by looking at the patient," he said. "Even if someone had done something with it already, we will know if it is totally fixed."

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